Monday, May 25, 2015

Holiday Monday Gardening

I got the extended pea trellises up today.  They're just poles at the end of each row, with jute twine zigzagged back and forth.  The 8-foot poles were perhaps just a bit excessive, but they were only 50 cents more than the 6-foot poles. I was hoping that I'd be able to push them a bit further into the ground, for stability, but they seem OK as is.

Extra height for the peas

And I got the trellising done just in time.  The first pea flower opened today!

First pea bloom

The pea vines are growing incredibly fast.  I put the trellises up around 10:00 this morning, and when I did another garden tour around 4:30, there were already tendrils firmly curled around the twine and stakes.

I also cobbled together a better cover for the strawberry bed today.  The darn birds were landing on the net, to push it down and access the berries.  I sat on my deck this morning and WATCHED A ROBIN EAT A STRAWBERRY!  I swear he was laughing at me.

Jury-rigged strawberry netting structure

So now I have a scrap of fencing, a scrap of PVC pipe, and a stick forming a makeshift hoop house under the bird netting.  The stick isn't long enough, and the whole thing is wobbly, but hopefully it will last until I can get a better framework constructed.  The birds have gotten the first three ripe strawberries, and this cannot continue. Waaah!

In happier news, the purple and lavender irises in the back yard are in full bloom.


And the grapes are getting ready to bloom!

Future grapes

I also finished planting the Tomato Annex this afternoon.  This patch of garden/compost pile has the most enormous worms I've ever seen.

The Tomato Annex, complete

And I also cleared out another of the raised beds next to the Basil Annex, and planted two cucumbers and a stevia plant.

The Cucumber Annex (with stevia)

Garden garden garden.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Garden 5.23.15

Finally, an update!  This is how my garden looks today.  Isn't it pretty?  It finally stopped raining long enough for me to mow the lawn. But YAY RAIN! In arid eastern Oregon, any rain we get is good. I haven't had to water anything for more than two weeks.

garden 5.23.15

The garden looks a little different from the last set of pictures I posted, doesn't it?  What a difference 20 days, warm temperatures, and some rain makes!

Here are the west beds.  The greens have gone bonkers and we've been eating big salads every night.  The pak choi is closest, then spinach, and then two kinds of lettuce.  As I mentioned earlier, the pak choi and spinach have bolted and will be coming out soon.  I meant to do that today, but didn't get around to it.  This bed is also full of cilantro plants, self-seeded from Anne's garden last year.  I just left them where they sprouted, and have been greatly enjoying the crop!

The bed behind is the strawberries.  I got a bale of straw this week, and put it around all the strawberries.  The berries were sitting on the dirt before, and I wanted to get a buffer below them so they wouldn't rot.

garden 5.23.15

The strawberries have also been covered with netting now, because...

first ripe strawberry

They are starting to ripen!!  I didn't get the net up quite in time, because the first two berries that turned red got pecked by birds.  Grrrr.  Hopefully those will be the only losses.

Here are the east beds.

garden 5.23.15

Holy smokes look at the peas!  They are almost at the tops of their improvised trellises, and I need to figure out something for more height.  No flowers yet, but getting close.  Mmm, fresh peas.  The onions are also doing great, getting bigger and bigger.

And the back bed is now planted!  There is an Oregon Spring regular tomato, a Black Krim beefsteak tomato, an Amish Paste roma tomato, a Mortgage Lifter beefsteak tomato, and what is likely a lemon cucumber that is a self-seeded volunteer from last year's garden. I put marigold seeds all around the edge last weekend, and most have sprouted.  I also have basil plants started that will go in here, but I didn't get that far yet.

The Black Krim and Amish Paste were bought as 12" tall plants two weeks ago because I was too impatient to wait for my seeds to get big enough.  I put them in the Wall-o-Water protectors for the past two weeks, and they already have flowers.  The Oregon Spring and Mortgage Lifter were started from seed, and are a little farther behind.  They just went into the ground today and are in the Wall-o-Water thingies now.  Next year I'll start my seeds much, much earlier.  The third Wall-o-Water is on the lemon cucumber.

The original three half barrel planters are doing well, though I think they would be happier with more sun.  I've added a thyme to the back planter, a catnip, a petunia, and a penstemon to the middle planter (the salvia that I had in there died- it was a mail order freebie, and arrived looking very battered).  The front planter doesn't have anything new to report, but is doing well.

garden 5.23.15

The rest of the deck planters are doing great.  Look how much the peppermint (second square planter from the front) has grown!  I'm VERY glad this is in a pot, and not running rampant in the yard.  I added a 'Doone Valley' lemon thyme to the pot with the curly willow- it's a low creeping thyme and I would love for it to cover the top of the pot.

The strawberry jar, newly planted with runners at the beginning of April, is covered with flowers and green strawberries.  I need to think about rigging up some netting over it.  Soon.  I have lots of birds and some very resourceful squirrels in the yard.

garden 5.23.15

Oh yes, and you may have noticed that I added three more half barrel planters.  I had to, you see, because I have this little problem where I want to buy All The Plants. Tralalala, it's so much fun!

Anyway, the one on the right is the Clematis texensis 'Princess Diana', with chocolate mint, bee balm, and marigolds.  The marigolds are sprouted, but still tiny. The middle planter has a Clematis 'Jackmanii', with a peppermint and marigolds.  The left planter was planted today, with Emma's choice of seeds.  There are four kinds of morning glory (sky blue, dark purple, light purple, red) and three kinds of zinnia (purple, orange, and mixed).

There is also a volunteer peony that is coming up through the deck.  I expect it was there before the deck was built a couple years ago, and is making a valiant effort at survival.  Unfortunately, the flower buds are too big to come through the spaces between the boards.

vining containers 5.23.15

The freesia pot is growing and growing, and seems to have sprouted a volunteer lettuce plant.  Ok then. Not sure where that came from.

freesia 5.23.15

The rugosa roses along the west fence have started blooming.  Very pretty and very fragrant single white flowers.

white rose

So that's the back yard.  While I was taking pictures, I let Coco the house kitty out to explore.  She loves being outside, but I don't let her out unsupervised.  She's an indoor cat, and I don't want her to take off or get a wild idea in her head about hunting.

house kitty exploring the yard (with supervision)

In the front yard, the columbine display continues.  Here are two more color forms to add to the list: very pretty blue and lavender, and deep maroon.



The blue-eyed grasses have also started blooming.

blue-eyed grass

My garden has also expanded beyond my own yard, since a friend kindly allowed me to plant some things in unused spaces of her yard this summer.  So I planted the Basil Annex last Sunday,

the basil annex

And started the Tomato Annex today.  This has six plants in the ground so far, with another six to go.  I did this at the end of the day, and ran out of steam for digging, so I'll have to go back up and finish that off.  Five of these plants are mystery varieties, since I got them off Freecycle and the lady lost the seed labels.  So it'll be an adventure.  The sixth one in the ground is an Oregon Spring (regular slicing tomato).  Still to plant are four San Marzano (roma), a Mortgage Lifter (beefsteak), and another Oregon Spring.

the tomato annex

This is a lot of tomatoes.  I know it's a lot, and hopefully I won't regret it.  I plan on doing a lot of canning and drying this summer.

While I was digging, Emma collected worms.  I love that she's not squeamish, about worms anyway.  Don't show her a spider!

playing with worms

After we got home from the garden annex, I had a couple things left on my list for the day.  I planted a bleeding heart and two larkspurs I got last weekend (see Buying All The Plants, above), and did a couple repairs.

This hose has leaked for the past 11 years, but now it doesn't.  I fixed it- never done that before! Unfortunately, the connector is slightly too big for the hose, and I couldn't slide the middle piece completely in.  Ah well, maybe I'll see if I can find a smaller diameter hose splice.  Or not.  Whatever.  It's secure and doesn't leak, so I'm not too fussed.

Repaired: hose that has been leaking for 11 years

I also re-screened the back door.  The old screen was full of holes, plus the spline was disintegrating and the whole bottom half of the screen was no longer attached to the frame.  So I bought screen, spline, and a spline tool, and fixed it.  I've never done that before, either!

Repaired: broken screen on door

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Garden randomness

I keep meaning to take another set of garden update photos, but it keeps getting put off for one reason or another.  Either it's raining, or I haven't done the weeding, or the grass needs to be mowed, or I don't get home until after dark, or whatever.  I can't seem to get it all together at the same time.  So instead, here are some random shots of interesting things in the garden today.

The pak choi has bolted and is flowering, so its days are numbered.  The leaves aren't bitter and are still very edible, so I plan to pull out the plants soon and freeze them for adding to soup, but the flowers are so pretty and the bees love them SO much that I can't bring myself to get rid of them just yet.  Maybe I'll just cut and freeze most of the leaves, and leave the flower stalks as long as possible.

Honeybee on pak choi flowers

The spinach has also bolted, but the bees don't seem to care about those flowers, so the whole plants are getting pulled and frozen tomorrow.  So far the lettuce is holding on without bolting.

The peonies in the back yard are starting to bloom, in a rampant explosion of magenta.


Remember the pretty blooming apple tree?  Well, I now have dime-sized baby apples!

Baby apples

The purple irises in the corner of the front yard continue to be gorgeous,


And here's a view of the whole front flower bed where all the columbine are.  This picture doesn't do it justice. At all.  The bed contains columbine, flax, two kinds of iris, forget-me-nots, multiple kinds of hosta, daylilies, lavender, hens and chicks, golden currants, blue-eyed grass, ornamental grasses, rushes, yarrow, four colors of violets, ferns, tulips, daffodils, crocus, bleeding hearts, and I'm sure there are others that I've forgotten.  This bed delights me as the season unfolds.

Front bed with columbines

And the big clumps of iris next to the driveway have started opening!  I had no idea what color these would be, I could just tell from the buds that they would be dark.  What a surprise when they opened this amazing deep burgundy-salmon-purple color!

Red iris by the driveway

Sigh.  I love my yard.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Columbine variations

Columbine flowers look like origami.  I love all the variation in shape and color in my front flower bed.

The first pairing is especially charming.  Both are pink and white, but one has small flowers, short spurs, short plant; the other has large flowers, long spurs, tall plant.

Columbine variations

Columbine variations

Columbine variations

Columbine variations

Columbine variations

Columbine variations

Columbine variations

Columbine variations

Columbine variations

Thursday, May 14, 2015

So much pretty

I love my yard.

After renting for so many years, I am so happy to be able to GROW things and PLANT things.  I feel rooted!

And I love all the thrills of discovery as the established plantings in this particular yard pop up and bloom.

giant purple columbine
giant purple columbine
small purple double columbine
small double columbine


tall purple iris
purple standard iris


More purple columbines because they're just so amazingly pretty.

large purple columbine

And the last one for today, a plant that I bought because I saw it near the cash register in the greenhouse when I only went in to buy a couple herbs and it somehow got added to my total and it followed me home and it's not my fault really it was just so pretty. Ahem.

This is a Clematis texensis 'Princess Diana'.

Clematis texensis Princess Diana

Seriously, though, isn't that a splendid flower?!

Clematis texensis Princess Diana

Monday, May 11, 2015

Om nom nom...

Rice bowls for dinner!

Rice bowls for dinner!

Chicken, red bell pepper, carrot, onion, pak choi (from the garden!), and mushrooms sautéed with garlic, ginger, turmeric, and coriander. Served over brown rice and topped with fresh cilantro (from the garden!), lime juice, sesame seeds, and coconut milk.

Great googly moogly that was good.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

All the kinds of soap

More soap again today.  Because of this:


That's my laundry soap jar.  Sadly, it is empty.  I sent Emma downstairs last night to do some more of her giant pile of laundry, and she came back up very quickly, telling me in triumph, "I can't do laundry, there's no soap!"  I could hear the cheering inside her head.


I have been mixing my own laundry soap for two years now, and it's great.  I did the first batch in May 2013, and then a second batch in May 2014.  The second time around, I left out the baking soda and made up the difference in volume with washing soda/borax, and couldn't tell that it made a speck of difference.  Each of those 9-cup batches lasted us a year, so here we are in May again and it's laundry soap time.

This time around, though, I paused before buying a bar of Fels-Naptha.  Soap... hmmm.  I can MAKE that!  Without fragrance or color or extra chemicals!

So I got out the lard and lye, and mixed up a quick batch of soap.  The other soaps I've made were cold-process batches, where the mixture is not cooked but rather left to sit for 4-6 weeks after molding to allow the soap to harden and fully saponify.

Today, though, I needed to do laundry immediately and couldn't wait 4-6 weeks for curing. So I did this batch as hot-process.

Since this is for laundry soap, I also made this batch with 0% superfat, meaning that all the oil will react with the lye and no oil will be left over at the end.  Normal people-washing soap is usually about 5% superfatted, since having a little un-reacted oil left over is a good thing.  Superfatted soap isn't as harsh and drying, and feels better on your skin. However, you don't want a lot of free oil floating around in a load of laundry, so no superfatting on this batch.

Hot process soap starts out the same as cold process soap: mixing up the lye water and adding it to the liquid fat.  I used 100% lard this time, since it's just for laundry and I didn't want a soap that will be really bubbly in the washing machine.  I mixed with the stick blender until trace.

Then the difference comes in.  Hot process soap is cooked to speed up the saponification.  I put it in the crock pot, on low, and let it go until all the lye was reacted (about an hour).  At the end, it sort of looks like Vaseline, translucent and silky.


Then I put it in the mold and let it cool down for a couple hours.


And then I cut it into bars.  This was a two-pound batch, and I cut it into 6 bars of approximately 5.5 ounces each (the same as a bar of Fels-Naptha).  Since this was made by hot-process, the soap is ready to use immediately!  It's still good to let it sit for a while to harden, but the saponification is complete and it won't burn like a cold process soap that hasn't cured long enough.


But this is for laundry, so I grated a bar and combined it with the washing soda and borax.  And now I'm set for another year.  Actually, I have enough soap for six years of laundry!


Each of my bars of laundry soap costs $1.54 (Fels-Naptha bar = $4.31).  The total cost of this 9-cup batch of laundry soap is $4.41.  That's about $0.03 per load of laundry.

I love being crafty.

Successful laundry soap!